The announcement that Michael Jordan just became a billionaire, the first professional athlete to do so, presents me with an interesting dichotomy. On one hand, I find myself surprised that it took this long for him to get there. As a Boston Red Sox fan, you can imagine what it means when I say that watching Michael Jordan in the 90s as a kid was the most amazing sports memories of my life, only rivaled by Johnny Damon’s two-grand slams to beat the Yankees in the 2003 ALCS. I sit here typing right now wearing vintage Jordan 4’s, and am thinking back on all the pairs of Jordan’s that I have owned throughout my life.
Jordan is not only synonymous with basketball; he is synonymous with street fashion, with business, and with adventurous design. His name makes you think of hip-hop and fashion (even though his fashion sense has always remained questionable at best) . He is, was, and always will be the best. LeBron may have more freakish ability, and Kevin Durant might prove to be the more prolific scorer, but Jordan’s brand will never be and can’t be beaten. His sneakers are worn by kids going to their first youth basketball game as much as they are worn by Rihanna and Pharrell at haute fashion events by in New York, LA, and Paris. Nike itself, the epitome of foreword-thinking near artistically-aspirational design and business-savvy ruthlessness in sporting fashion, owes Air Jordan for much of the company’s eternal success. American culture itself is not the same had 23 never graced a court.
But on the other hand, maybe it is strange that he is the first athlete to become a billionaire. His gambling problems are notorious. His divorce to his first wife Juanita cost him a jaw-dropping $150 million, which at the time (2007) was the most expensive divorce settlement in history. A civil suit with a former girlfriend came close to costing him another $5 million. For one of the most loved, respected, and gifted men to walk the Earth, MJ has had a rough go of it in his personal life.
In the 90’s when he was winning championship after championship we were all so enamored with him that he was literally untouchable in the press. His personal life was off the record, so long as he was shattering records and turning the NBA into a global powerhouse. But as those memories began to fade, or at the very least became blurry, and the league was already bouncing back from his absence thanks to the likes of a flurry of young talent in LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Kevin Durant, Jordan’s life became an open book. He started to resemble something of a aging, fattened joke of his own self, smoking Cuban cigars and getting caught in a litany of hideous outfits. The change in attitude towards Jordan perhaps culminated in an ESPN Magazine piece by Wright Thompson, a piece that seemed to highlight that Jordan was indeed a human with very human problems, and maybe he was even just like us?
Sorry folks, Jordan is nothing like us, and now he’s here in 2014 remarried to a Cuban model and oh yeah, a billionaire. The Michael Jordan brand has persisted almost 15 years following his retirement. Kids who never got to see the beauty of Michael Jordan gracing the court still want to buy his shoes. I’m sitting here thinking about how amazing those royal Jordan Future’s would look with a pair of grey trousers with the cuffs rolled up to my shin. His name and brand are still peddling the most advanced designs in the game. He has stores. Clothes. He still sells Jerseys for crying out loud! Jordan is just something that’s part of your everyday life. You can’t go a day without seeing the Air Jordan logo. He’s more engrained into our culture than McDonald’s, and now he has the billion-dollar fortune to prove it.
How Mike actually crossed the threshold into the billionaire zone was actually far less prophetic and much more analytic than I am making it. He increased his share in his NBA team the Hornets from 80 percent to 89.5 percent. According to Forbes, the Hornets are worth somewhere in between $600 Million and $625 Million. You then subtract the Hornets’ $135 million in debt, and value Jordan’s stake in the Hornets at about $416 million. Forbes then estimates his Net Worth outside of the Hornets at $600 million. Add it up. There you have it kids, his Airness’ is a bonafide billionaire.
But anyone who remembers the 1990’s knows that Jordan’s ascendancy to billionairedom was more than entrepreneurial savvy that got him this excessive fortune. Michael Jordan was, is, always will be the best, period. He changed a game and a culture. He believes in design (I mean look at that logo). He believes in marketing. Most importantly, he believes in himself. Tiger came close. Lebron might get there, but I doubt it. There will never be a world-changing athlete like Michael Jordan ever again. May he enjoy his success.